Extreme is the new moderate

In a “Monty Python” episode, a young soldier approaches his Colonel and expresses the desire to quit the army because he signed up for water-skiing and travelling and not for the fighting or killing. Upon which the Colonel inquires, “Watkins, are you a pacifist?” The young soldier, Watkins, replies with a sincere straight face, “No, sir. I’m not a pacifist, sir. I’m a coward.

This might seem as an oblique and insensitive way of approaching the blasphemy law debate in Pakistan. Yet, this is the feeling that one sometimes get about the liberals and moderates in Pakistan when they engage in this debate and perhaps they could benefit from young Watkins’s humiliating candour. However, a recent incident requires revisiting this impression and allows for the possibility that perhapsnot all of the silence and fuzziness can be explained by cowardice. The cleric that framed the child, Rimsha Masih, in the shameful episode, has now been arrested and charged with blasphemy law also. There was some expression of jubilation on this perceived victory. Never mind, that the charges on Rimsha still remain; there is also a broader implication of this. The irony of those who oppose the blasphemy law and yet rejoice when a cleric is given “a taste of his own medicine” is obvious. Similarly, when Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated, there were calls by well-intentioned liberals that a “fatwa” be obtained from “moderate” clerics against those who incited Mumtaz Qadri to commit the murder. The fact that they are strengthening and lending credence to the very institution that caused the murder in the first place did not occur to them. The upshot of these examples is that now all of us (liberals, conservatives, moderately religious, etc) think in the language of the religious fanatic.


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